Outdoor lights are an essential part of any home. Besides the fact that they illuminate the environment so that we can see where we’re going, they also give us a sense of safety. You might have heard the word GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) floating around, and you probably have some of these special circuit-interrupting devices installed in your home. But the big question is: Do outdoor lights also need GFCIs?
The National Electric Code requires the use of a GFCI outlet with outdoor lights which can easily come into contact with the elements (e.g. water). A GFCI will detect abnormal power surged and instantly turn off the power to prevent electrocution, and outdoor GFCIs should have weather-proof covers.
GFCIs are an essential aspect of your outdoor lighting setup, and setting them up can be a breeze. More so, you also need to understand that there’s more to outdoor safety than simply installing GFCIs. This article will answer all your questions and more, so you don’t have to worry about anything.
Do Your Outdoor Lights Have to Have a GFCI?
Electricity is useful, but in some cases it can be dangerous too. You have to treat electrical devices and systems with care. A simple error can lead to ripple effects that no one wants to deal with. Things like electrocution and fires can result from poor management and handling of electricity.
Outdoor electricity requires extra caution because it’s exposed to all sorts of unpredictable weather conditions. You probably have an idea of what happens when water and electricity meet. Hence the need for GFCI. A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is a safety device mandated by the National Electric Code (NEC) to reduce and prevent electrical hazards.
The primary role of a GFCI is to disrupt electrical circuits in case of a sudden power surge, preventing electrocution in the process. It continuously monitors electrical input and automatically trips and de-energizes a circuit if it detects electricity flowing to a grounded surface.
A GFCI assumes that electricity flows uniformly. An abnormal surge of electricity is therefore interpreted as an indication of potential danger.
This incredible innovation was introduced in the 1970s, and since then, the annual number of electrocutions has reportedly been reduced by 83%. So these devices work.
GCFIs are especially useful in areas of the house where water can easily come in contact with electricity, such as in the kitchen, the bathroom, the swimming pool, and, yes, the outdoor spaces. Don’t forget that outdoor lights can be exposed to almost anything your environment has to offer, from rain to snow and everything in between.
So, do your outdoor lights have to have GFCIs? Absolutely! You need to plug your outdoor lights into GFCI-protected receptacles, like the ANKO GFCI Outlet (on Amazon).
One of these devices should be installed at the front of your home and another at the back, and they should be placed a maximum height of 6.5 feet from the ground.
Your deck, patio, balcony, and porch should also have a GFCI-protected receptacle since they’re all located outdoors.
Do Outdoor Lights Need to Be on their Own Circuit?
Some outdoor lights are installed as a complete afterthought. As a result, most outdoor lights attached to the side of your house will be connected to the house circuit and are often routed via an existing course through a fused spur.
However, to ensure that any tripping issues with the outdoor lighting installation do not affect the rest of the house, the outdoor lighting installation should be connected to a separate circuit.
Do GFCI Outlets Need a Specific Cover?
As much as GFCIs protect outdoor lights from possible hazards, they also have to be well protected to carry out their functions effectively. Since these nifty devices will also be exposed to natural weather conditions like any other outdoor lighting, they need a specific cover.
GFCI outlets need unique covers, depending on what side of the house they are installed. All surface-mounted outlets must be listed as outdoor-rated. In wet or damp areas, receptacles without locks should be weather resistant.
Metallic receptacles must be grounded. If it will be used in the rain or a damp environment, the cover must be rated for wet environments, like this Hubbell Bell MX1050s Weatherproof Cover (on Amazon).
You need to consider where you’ll be placing the device before deciding which cover is the most appropriate.
Do Patio Lights Need GFCI?
GFCI scan be used just about anywhere in and around a house. However, they are most crucial in areas where water is or might be present. If you build an outdoor patio or porch and want light installed on the site, you’ll definitely need a GFCI.
The reason is simple — your patio is outside, and its light will be outside too. You can’t afford to install a light in your patio or patio without the protection of a GFCI like the Legrand Radiant Weather Resistant Outlet (on Amazon).
Anything can happen, and you need to be ready for that.
Where Else Should You Install GFCI?
As mentioned earlier, GFCIs can be installed just about anywhere. However, according to the NEC, GFCIs should at least be installed in the following places:
- Kitchen: All receptacles serving the countertop surfaces of kitchens must be GFCI protected.
- Bathrooms: GFCI outlets must be installed on all receptacles in the bathroom.
- Basements and crawl spaces: GFCI protection is required in unfinished basement areas not intended for habitable use but for storage or work purposes.
- Wet bar sinks: Receptacles should be GFCI protected if they’re within 6 feet of the sink’s outside edge.
- Temporary wiring: Any temporary wiring systems must include GFCIs for all receptacles.
- Swimming pool: If a swimming pool is within 20 feet of a luminaire, a receptacle for circulation or sanitation equipment, or a pump motor receptacle, it should be protected with a GFCI.
- Outdoors: GFCI protection shall be provided on all receptacles outside the dwelling unit, including those under the eaves of roofs. One exception is that GFCI does not have to be installed on de-icing or fixed electric snow melting equipment.
Additional Tips for Safe Outdoor Lighting
As far as outdoor lighting safety is concerned, GFCI is only the start. There are other safety tips you should consider before you can boldly declare that your outdoor lighting is safe for use.
For starters, you should ensure your extension cords and light bulbs are designed for outdoor use. Outdoor-rated electric items have been designed to withstand unfavorable conditions, unlike electric things that aren’t outdoor-rated.
Do not connect multiple extension cords together, and do not use bulbs that exceed an outlet’s maximum wattage. Also, a rule of thumb is to never plug an indoor cable into an outdoor outlet. Doing so can cause some adverse reactions.
You should also turn off outdoor light bulbs if they aren’t in use. This will prevent them from heating up unnecessarily.
Make sure your holiday lights and extension cords are in good condition before plugging them in if they’ve been stored away most of the year. They should not be frayed, worn, or damaged in any way. These issues can be dangerous, so replace any lights that are damaged.
There are many great uses of outdoor lights as long as you’re being safety conscious and have taken the necessary measures to ensure no accidents occur.